Loyola struggled against Cleveland State’s pressure defense Thursday in a 60-54 loss at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers coughed up the ball 16 times, which the Vikings turned into 15 points.
With guards being the team’s strong suits, one would think a ball handling would not be a weakness for Loyola (5-5). However, that has not been the case all season with the Ramblers turning the ball over in 21 percent of their possessions. As ugly as the team’s 25.8 turnover rate was against Cleveland State (3-7), it was not an anomaly.
Cleveland State forced most of Loyola’s turnovers. Some giveaways were completely the Loyola’s fault, although the Vikings’ defense could have played an indirect role by generally unsettling the Ramblers’ offense.
With 3:59 left in the first half, Loyola inbounded underneath its own basket with two seconds on the shot clock. Coach Porter Moser drew up a perfect lob play for sophomore wing Donte Ingram, who had a chance for a wide-open alley-oop but fumbled the inbounds pass out of bounds.
While turnovers have continually been an issue for Loyola, it has still had some success this season. The Ramblers committed 17 turnovers in a win against MAC contender Toledo and 21 miscues in a season-opening victory against UTSA.
The loss to Cleveland State exposed a potentially bigger issue for Loyola’s offense — reliance on 3-point shooting. The Ramblers have been one of the best outside shooting teams in college basketball. Even after Wednesday’s poor 3-of-13 performance, they rank No. 35 nationally at 39.9 percent from deep.
More than a third of Loyola’s points come from beyond the arc.
With the 3-pointers not dropping against Cleveland State, Loyola needed shot-creating guards Earl Peterson and Milton Doyle to find their way into the paint. Peterson succeeded with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, all two-pointers.
Doyle, who was playing through an ankle injury, tallied only nine points on poor 3-of-8 shooting. The Chicago native also had four turnovers and only two assists.
The shooting struggles compounded with senior forward Montel James missing his third straight game with a back injury. James, Loyola’s only legitimate inside presence, averages 9.1 points and 5.6 rebounds.
Sophomores Maurice Kirby and Julius Rajala picked up the extra minutes. While both were fine — Kirby had a career-high five points and five points, and Rajala had four boards — the duo ultimately lost the battle against Cleveland State’s bigs.
6-foot-7 freshman Jibri Blount tied career-bests of 11 points and seven rebounds. 6-foot-7 junior Demonte Flanigan recorded 10 points and three blocks.
Without James, Loyola had few opportunities on offense to dump the ball into the post. When it did, Cleveland State was not forced to double team Kirby and Rajala as it may have if James were playing, keeping the perimeter adequately guarded.
Loyola needed to find other ways to score inside and cause the Cleveland State defense to adjust, but Peterson was the only player who could consistently make any production happen.